Read CHAPTER XIII of The House of Toys , free online book, by Henry Russell Miller, on


She halted just within the closed door. At first he could not believe it was she. For a little he went blind, a black streaming mist hiding her from him. But when it cleared away she was still there. Their eyes met and clung across the room.

“Esther! You came! I didn’t believe ”

“He asked me to come.”

“He asked you! I don’t understand ”

“Would you rather I had stayed away?”

For answer he held out hungry arms toward her. He would have sat upright; pain and weakness were forgotten. But she was at his side in a breath.

“You must not.”

She put her hands on his shoulders to restrain him. He caught them and held them close to him. She let him for a moment, then gently freed them from his clasp.

“It is no worse than he says your hurt?”

“It isn’t bad at all.”

“You’re sure? You see, I didn’t know until I got to the office. And they made it out very bad there. They even said you mightn’t live. And I had to wait until he came with definite word. It was terrible. When I thought oh, David!”

The steadiness she had had to keep up before others gave way. Suddenly she sat on the bed, pressing both hands tightly against her face.

“Don’t, Esther!” Her weakness hurt him. “Don’t! There’s nothing to cry for.”

“Let me. I’ll be all right in a minute.”

He let her then. And he wished that the hot iron in his own heart could be cooled a little in tears. But his eyes were dry and aching and the iron burned deeper. There was something to cry for.

“Now!” It was the tempter whispering. “Now is the time to tell her.”

But a strange paralysis was on his tongue and will.

She waited until she could achieve the smile she wanted him to see. Then she let her hands fall to her lap. And in the brightness of that smile the tears on her lashes were dewdrops that had caught the morning sunlight.

“Speak up! Now!” It was the imp again.

“Why do you falter?” Now was the time to tell her of that beautiful kingdom and how he proposed to win it for them, to ask her to wait until he could lead her through its gates. And still he could not. . . . And suddenly he knew that he never could. . . .

“There!” The smile was perfect. “That is over. I didn’t mean to be so foolish. It’s only because I had been thinking it was so much worse. Now I can take time to be glad. About this, I mean.”

From the pocket of her jacket she drew forth a folded sheet of paper and held it out to him. It was the letter from St. Mark’s.

“It seems almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? though we ought never to say that. I found it on the floor by my desk this morning. I thought it was some of the office correspondence and opened it and do you mind? when I saw what it was I read it through. I hardly knew what I was doing. It didn’t seem important then. But now Oh, I am glad glad!” She nodded brightly. “The finest thing in the world has happened.”

He looked dully at the letter which ought to have meant so much to him.

“I had forgotten that.”

“It means you can go back to your own profession, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose so. Yes, it means that.”

“It has been like a story, hasn’t it? This summer, I mean. A beautiful story! In the beginning you came to the office to prison, you said. And I was plodding along, trying to make myself believe that I liked bookkeeping. A pair of lame ducks we were, with broken wings. I’m a little sorry for us yet aren’t you? But now we Do you think it would hurt you if I raised the shades? It’s such a glorious morning and I love sunshine.”

“It wouldn’t hurt, of course.”

She went to the windows and raised the shades and the morning radiance, the light in which all hues are seen as they are, flooded the room. Then she went back to her seat beside him.

“That is much better, isn’t it? . . . A beautiful story! Now our wings are strong again. . . .”

And so she went on, painting in the brightest colors she knew how to mix what she supposed the future held for them. She tried to make it splendid. St. Mark’s was to be but a beginning. He was to go very far, building many beautiful churches, striving to make each a little finer than the one before, until he was famous throughout the land “Which is worth something, of course, but not half so much as knowing that you have done good work. You remember, I said once that would be your great reward.” She was to live outdoors, careful not to overdo her voice practise at first. After a while, when she had grown stronger, she would study hard to make up for the years she had lost, perhaps go abroad to work under the great voice builders and coaches there. And “some day,” perhaps, rumor would tell him of a new contralto whom people loved to hear sing. . . . It was a little childish, no doubt, and rather overdone.

But he did not think of that. He was not listening. He was seeing, not the picture she painted but that which she made, there in the sunshine. She was whiter than ever. Deep shadows were under her eyes. But the eyes themselves were very steady, her voice never quavered, nor did the smile flicker. Where did she get her spirit, this slender fragile girl who seemed so in need of another’s strength for support?

And upon the bright brave soul of her he had wanted to put a stain. He could not do that! He no longer wanted to do that.

For the questions Jonathan had left burning in David’s heart had answered themselves. As he watched her, he saw what on the high mount he had refused to see. He had hurt her enough. Not through another hurt could he find healing for her. And it would hurt her, what he had planned. It would take from her all that he loved; and it would add shame, the shame of cowardice, if not of cruelty to others. He could not do that; even if she were willing he could not. Yielding was not the simple thing it had seemed. Something he lacked or something he had which forever shut the gates of that kingdom upon him. It had been but an evil impossible dream. But a beautiful dream! There was yet no joy in renunciation.

David went down from the mount into the valley where shadows were deep and unbroken.

“And so the story ends happily, as it should. Everything has come out right.”

“No! Everything has not come out right!”

“You mustn’t say that. You mustn’t think ”

“Esther!” It was hard to meet her eyes then. “I’ve got to say it to let you see the sort of man I am. Last night I was thinking of of what has happened to us and what we would do. There seemed only one way out that I could bear. I made up my mind. I was going to you to tell you that I would get free I would have managed that somehow and then come to you. I could have done it last night.”

The smile faded. She waited for him to continue.

“But Smith stopped me. I am glad he stopped me. For now ” He could not go on.

“Now you can’t. Is that it?”

“I can’t.”

“I am glad you can’t.”

She said it very quietly. Her eyes left his and turned to the sunny window. But the light that shone on the thin tired face came not from without.

The ugly tempter lifted its wings and flew swiftly away.

“Are you,” he began again at last, “revising your opinion of me? I hope you are.”

A hand fell lightly on his lips. “I don’t want to revise my opinion of you. I couldn’t. And I understand what you wanted and why it is impossible for us. Because last night I could have let you do it.”

“Oh, Esther, I never meant to hurt you. Can you believe that?”

“I know. But you haven’t hurt me even though for a while I was shameless as I never thought I could be. I said the story has ended happily. And it has with the happiest ending possible, the only happy ending it could have. Because there is nothing to regret.”

“Nothing to regret!” Unbelief was in his gaze.

“Ah! We mustn’t talk about it but can’t you see can’t you understand?”

She leaned over him, giving him her eyes, letting him look to the very depths he had once wanted to explore. He saw love there, and joy in love, but as well the will to renounce gladly and no lurking shadow to say that she had bravely lied.

“Do you believe that I am not unhappy and will not be?”

“I can’t understand. But I have to believe. I am glad to believe.”

He closed his eyes and relaxed his tired body, to learn that the wound was throbbing sharply. But that was a little thing.

She sat beside him, her face turned again to the sunlight. Once she reached out and touched his hand caressingly; he caught hers and clung to it as though he could not let it go. It was not a long silence.

But it was long enough. In those few minutes he went up out of the valley again and stood with her on another mount. And to him, too, came the free will to renounce; and understanding. Sorrow abode with him still, an exquisite pang that was to leave a lasting scar. But in his heart glowed a strange fire as if for some splendid victory lighted only for that hour, it may be, but revealing to him what he had found; a love that had not failed, that asked nothing, able to triumph over all things, even itself. It was so he had dreamed love might be. He was glad he had found it. He was glad of the cup it had put to his lips. He was the richer for her. He would be the richer for seeing her go. He hoped that the sorrow would never quite pass out of his heart, that the love would never shrink to a mere memory.

He lifted shining eyes to hers.

“Now I understand! Some things aren’t worth all they cost. What I wanted last night is one of them. But this I would not be without it, even though ”

“Nor would I.”

Tears were gemming her eyes once more. But they were not sorrowful tears and they did not fall.

It was time for her to go. The hands that had not ceased to cling fell apart. She went slowly across the room.

At the door she lingered a moment, looking back. Through the streaming mist he saw her face, bright in the white glory of renunciation. She smiled . . . and was gone. . . .

The same brightness was upon him. But he did not know that. He stood on the mount to which she had led him, still seeing her. And still there were no regrets. To him was coming the strength he was to need, a faith in himself that was to tide him over many gray morrows. It was a very high place, the peak of his life. Ever afterward he was to look up to that hour.

That evening came Shirley, summoned by Mrs. Jim. But the nurse turned her back at David’s door. He had fever and the dreaded infection had set in. There must be no excitement. So Shirley must wait. Two days more she had to wait, anxious days during which she learned fast. On the third the nurse raised the embargo for a few minutes, and Shirley, breathless and afraid, went to the door through which the other had gone.

He was ready for her coming. His only dread was that she might see what he must never let her know. He had a deep pitying tenderness for her, to whom love had appeared only as a pretty toy.

She halted uncertainly at the door. He saw that she doubted her welcome.

“David, do you still want me to come?”

“Come, Shirley.”

She went quickly to him and knelt by his side, and kissed him.

“Dear, I wanted to come. I couldn’t stay away. And it wasn’t because you gave me a choice. Won’t you believe that, David?”

“I believe that, Shirley.”

“You only said, ‘Come.’ Don’t you really want me? Do you think that after a while, when I’ve learned all I have to learn and proved what I have to prove you will be glad that I came?”

“I am glad now.”

He touched the pretty gleaming hair caressingly.

“I believe you are! And they said oh, David!”

She caught his hand and pressed it to her cheek.

Then he saw that she had come to the threshold of her house of toys and stood looking out, trembling and frightened before the bigness of the real world. He was staggered by that. She had come to the door too late; for if she fared forth, she must go alone and untaught through a country whose loneliness he had known. He must save her from that. He could not give her the one thing which could companion her through those arid wastes. The tender protective impulse surged stronger to his aid.

Gently he sought to lead her back into her playhouse.

“Shirley, I have a confession to make. While you were gone St. Mark’s decided to build. I submitted some plans and they were accepted. Do you like my surprise?”

“Then you can go back to your profession. I am glad of that.”

“It’s a big commission, Shirley. Almost as big as St. Christopher’s would have been. We’ll be rolling in wealth for us.”

“You won’t have to worry any more. I am glad of that, too.”

She was resisting, looking back toward the still open door and the prospect beyond. It had frightened her, but it had thrilled her, too. Anxiously he pointed inward.

“It means more than that. If I’ve done pretty well and I’m sure I have it will bring a lot more work. We can have all the things our mouths used to water for. We’ll move into a very nice apartment at once, and have a maid, maybe a nurse for Davy Junior. We’ll take on the club again think of hearing the crack of a good drive once more! There’ll be theaters and concerts, with a taxi on rainy evenings. And when we’re settled in that new apartment we’re going to give a beautiful dinner to celebrate our return to the surface. My stars! can’t you see our guests’ eyes popping? And when the first check comes in from the St. Mark’s people I’m going to buy you let’s see, what shall I buy you? Pinch me, please. When I think of it I can’t quite realize that it’s true. Isn’t it bully, Shirley dear?”

“Of course,” she said slowly. “But somehow those things they seem so so little, now I have you back. Do they really mean so much to you, David?”

“You’ve come back that’s the great thing, of course. And there’ll be no worries to make things hard for us, no penny-pinching and discontent, no misunderstandings. Don’t you see? It’s the whole thing. And so ” He tried to laugh gaily, but an echo was in his heart. “And so the story ends happily.”

For a little a question rested in her eyes. His laugh, trailing off into huskiness, puzzled her, vaguely hurt her. She sighed. Then habit began to prevail. The poor little sentimental regret for this sudden prosperity died. Her eyes rested on the pretty new toys tricking out her house. And as she looked the door closed softly, shutting her in forever. She did not know.

“Do you know, I was almost sorry for a minute? I hardly know why. It is better this way. We’ll have to go back to believing in fairies, shan’t we?”

Her eyes were dancing. Happiness tinted her velvety cheeks. All that she saw was good.

“Oh, David, I believe we’re going to be happier than ever before!”